Chemically based resistance of plants to herbivorous insects is today essentially synonymous with allelochemically based resistance; the importance of plant secondary compounds in determining patterns of host-plant utilization has been established in a wide variety of insect-plant interactions. In contrast, primary metabolites, those involved in fundamental plant physiological processes, are rarely considered to be major determinants of host-plant resistance despite the fact that, as insect nutrients, they can have profound effects on behavior and physiology. The degree to which variation in plant primary metabolism results from the selective impact of herbivory may be greatly underestimated in that the biosynthetic and structural diversity of primary metabolites and the consequences of that diversity on herbivores are rarely taken into account in most studies of insect preference and performance. Qualitative and quantitative variation in the production of primary metabolites can result from herbivore selection pressure if production of primary metabolites is under genetic control and if plant fitness in the presence of herbivores is associated in a predictable way with genetically based primary metabolite variation. Variation in primary metabolism is likely to be particularly effective as a defense against highly oligophagous herbivores with limited mobility, especially those confined to structures containing allelochemicals that could neutralize the benefits associated with compensatory feeding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)925-940
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1995


  • Secondary compounds
  • herbivory
  • plant resistance
  • primary compounds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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